2023 Restaurant Week Beneficiary: Build Trybe Seed to Plate Program

2023 Restaurant Week Beneficiary: Build Trybe Seed to Plate Program
Cornerstones of Care is the featured beneficiary for the 14th Annual Kansas City Restaurant Week, which runs from January 13 to January 22, 2023. Read the news story here.

The Present

“Slide your spatula under and fold it over,” said Craig Flanery, Build Trybe Vocational Trades Instructor, standing next to the hot stove.

A moment later, the omelet is successfully folded in half, and chopped peppers, onions, tomatoes, and melted cheese spill out with a satisfying “tsssss” sound.

“Nice job,” said Flanery.

It’s Breakfast Week for the Build Trybe Seed to Plate program, which means five students enrolled in the Ozanam Campus Day Treatment School are tasked with working together to prepare omelets. Earlier in the week, the group made pancakes and had their choice of preparing blueberry, chocolate chip, or plain.

“Everything we make here, I like – and I’d say if I didn’t like it,” said one student, diligently dicing multi-colored peppers. “We made vegetarian chili, and it was good – even without meat.”

The Seed to Plate program incorporates as many fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables in the cooking as possible to show kids how to use them when preparing meals. Their plant-based menus have included eggplant sticks, enchiladas, and buffalo cauliflower wings.

In the winter, students primarily stay indoors and focus on baking, using any remaining canned or frozen produce from the fall harvest. In the summer, they split their time between the kitchen and the 1.5-acre Ozanam Campus garden, boasting a greenhouse, 13 in-ground rows, 26 raised beds, and 26 fruit trees. This format allows the students to gain firsthand experience growing the food that is used in cooking classes. 

In 2022, the Ozanam Campus garden produced 2,260 pounds of fresh food – a 255 percent increase from 2021. But the success doesn’t stop there. Program leaders plan to add about 950 square feet of growing space for the upcoming planting season. The entire garden will be planted, watered, weeded, and harvested by an estimated 50 kids in all three Seed to Plate programs.

Currently, the three pathways to get involved in the program include enrollment in the Ozanam Campus or Gillis Campus Day Treatment programs, involvement in one of the on-campus Residential Treatment Programs, or engagement in the advanced culinary cohort. Once involved, students have various opportunities to grow their skillset, including the annual Thyme for Kids Plant Sale

“For the kids that excel and are really interested in it, we’ll connect them with our transition coordinator to try and find a job,” said Seed to Plate Manager Haley Lucitt.

Craig and Haley are two of three team members who run the Seed to Plate program. Kim Stanton, Vocational Trades Instructor, oversees the smaller garden and culinary program at the Gillis Campus. This past Thanksgiving, the Gillis Campus Seed to Plate program prepared and hosted a family-style Thanksgiving meal for members of our Executive Leadership Team and other students on campus.

“What sticks with me is how readily kids want to try eating fruits and veggies in the garden,” said Haley. “I constantly hear that kids hate vegetables, but now I realize that they love them.”

One of those kids, *Andrew, spends more time in the garden than most, logging about four hours per week as part of the Build Trybe Vocational Workshops, a training program for youth in the Day Treatment programs. Through this opportunity, Andrew works closely with Build Trybe instructors to learn soft and hard job skills and assist the Build Trybe instructors in maintaining the farm space.

His favorite part of the job is harvesting produce in the summer, but Andrew keeps himself busy throughout the year by helping with various projects around campus.

“This program shows you a lot about what you can make without going to the grocery store,” said Andrew. Through Build Trybe’s Seed to Plate program, kids like Andrew can obtain valuable life skills that prepare them for life after Cornerstones of Care.

When asked whether he plans to have his own garden someday, Andrew responded without hesitation: “Definitely.”

The Future

“Visiting chefs will come into our cafeterias, work directly with our youth, and plan and cook meals with them. Our goal is for those cafeterias to feel more like a restaurant and a place where you’d be down to pay to eat. It’s very exciting.”

If you want to learn more about the future of Build Trybe’s Seed to Plate program and dream big about this project’s potential, look no further than Theo Bunch, Build Trybe Director of Career and Education. Four years ago, Theo helped to identify a need to prepare youth for life after their time with Cornerstones of Care. The agriculture and culinary program were the first to get on their feet, and the building trades and landscaping programs followed soon after.

“We saw employment as one of the key pieces of this,” said Theo.

Today, students in the Culinary Program’s advanced cohort focus most of their time and effort in the cafeteria. One or two times per week, they prepare food for the 60 students and staff in the Residential Treatment Program. In general, the advanced cohort is not responsible for the entire meal but helps with preparation and occasionally makes a soup or side dish.

In 2023, Theo and the rest of the Seed to Plate team hope to take this program to the next level.

This could include a career track-type program where students advance from dishwasher to line cook to sous chef and build on their skills as they go. It also opens up the possibility of bringing in local chefs and farmers to inspire the students and provide them with hands-on learning opportunities.

“We want to provide a more rigorous advanced cohort for a career in any type of food service,” said Haley.

Another goal for 2023 is to build a high tunnel at the Ozanam Campus for the Seed to Plate program. A high tunnel is a passively heated and ventilated plastic-covered structure that allows for growing plants in the ground in colder weather.

“It would be great to have a space to grow in that directly translates to year-round programming for the kids and more access to fresh, local food for the cafeteria,” said Haley. “A high tunnel will allow us to have more local food in the cafeteria, and then we can fill in the gaps with local farms.”

Having lived in Los Angeles for most of her life, Haley knows a thing or two about growing food year-round. While on the west coast, she managed a biodynamic farm, One Gun Ranch, and a farm program at a charter high school, Los Angeles Leadership Academy. Before that, she received her master’s degree in Human Nutrition from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Since February 2022, Haley has been working with the Cornerstones of Care Build Trybe team, utilizing her unique perspective and experience to drive growth and success for the Seed to Plate program.

“I am proud of the fact that we are expanding our growing space,” said Haley. “This will allow us to provide even more fresh produce to our cafeterias and, therefore, to our youth. Hopefully, it will make us completely self-sufficient, so we will have to order little-to-no fresh produce during the summer!”

With more local food available for the Ozanam Campus cafeteria, there will be more work for the advanced cohort. The hope is that this translates to more regular service hours for the cafeteria and restaurant-quality food for staff, students, and community members. Once the cafeteria is running regularly at the Ozanam Campus, these services can expand to the Gillis Campus as well.

The momentum is strong for the Build Trybe Seed to Plate program as it continues to expand its program offerings and the number of youth served each year. The next phase to incorporate more local food in the cafeteria is already approved and well on its way to reality.

Theo is quick to highlight that Cornerstones of Care only does this work with support from the community and innovators in the field that help to lead the way.

“There are some other schools that have pulled this model off to the point where community members pay to come and eat there,” said Theo. “We look to them as a model that has been achieved.”

Build Trybe is almost entirely donor and grant-funded, so the financial support from the community is integral to the program’s success. Major funders for the Build Trybe program include the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which provided a Farm to School grant totaling $97,000 in 2021, as well as Cargill and the Health Forward Foundation.

The community matches these dollars during two Build Trybe fundraisers: Savor the Sound, an immersive event featuring music by Calvin Arsenia and a menu by award-winning Chef Celina, on February 4, 2023, and the Thyme for Kids Plant Sale this spring.

“This combination of events, grants, private donors, and benefactors keep our youth learning and growing,” said Theo. “Restaurant Week is a great opportunity for the community to support both local restaurants and the life-changing work happening at Cornerstones of Care. We encourage anyone interested to come meet our instructors and tour our sites to see just how these dollars help our community thrive.”

*Name changed to protect privacy

Cornerstones of Care is the featured beneficiary for the 14th Annual Kansas City Restaurant Week, which runs from January 13 to January 22, 2023. Read the news story here.